Sunday, June 6, 2010

Things to love/hate about living in Japan #2

A thing to love love love about living in Japan is dessert. The cakes for sale at bakeries, even grocery store bakeries, are made from high-quality ingredients and aren`t as sweet as those fluorescent icing-covered cakes you can get at Wal-Mart and Food Lion. Compare:

a typical Japanese cake (this one is for Christmas, but many birthday cakes look similar). The bakers use pieces of chocolate with `Happy Birthday` or whatever message printed on them to customize the cakes, so you don`t have to worry about crappy handwriting.

a fairly typical American cake, making use of plastic figures and extravagant colors.

The cakes that I have eaten in Japan have been light and fluffy, with equally fluffy icing. There`s nothing heavy or overly sugary about them. Even the whipped cream tastes more like old-fashioned cream rather than chemical Cool Whip. Of course, that quality comes with a price. Cakes here are expensive--about $30 for a small circular cake. I`ve never even seen a big sheet cake in a Japanese bakery. The high cost of sweets might be part of the reason that people don`t make as big a deal out of birthdays in Japan as they do in the States.

And did I mention that the chocolate here is divine? I`d take a Ghana bar over Hershey`s any day.

Soft serve ice cream in Japan is also heavenly. The fruit flavors, like strawberry and blueberry, taste like actual fruit instead of some sugary fruit imitation made in a lab.

I`m not a big fan of goma (sesame seed) or macha (green tea) ice cream, though.

But the best part of Japanese desserts is that they embody the rule of everything in moderation. Cake slices and dessert portions are just right. The flavors are more subtle and little details, like chocolate shavings or a dollop of fresh cream, are perfectly balanced. People rarely even eat sweets; they are saved for special occasions instead of a guilty regular indulgence. You savor every crumb. Some Japanese sweets, like yatsuhashi, are even good for you because they are made from beans and rice. When you save the good stuff for special moments, you appreciate it more. And that`s sweet.

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